More on Freight in the Netherlands

One of our final meetings in the Netherlands was one attended by Tom Miller (Sam Adams’ chief of staff) and myself with two representatives of the freight industry: a freight forwarder and a representative of their industry association. The meeting was at Schiphol airport, a major European hub of air freight activity. The area is a major inter-model center, transferring goods between ocean-going ships, canal barges, rail, trucks and air-freight.

There were a number of perspectives that I found striking. One that stood out is a discussion of the reliability of various modes. I was surprised to hear that the greatest certainty of on-time delivery was by water, i.e., river and canal! You can get as far as Vienna by canal from Holland!

One interesting technique they employ is to off-load container ships to barges that then bring the containers to several terminals where they can be transferred to trucks or rail. That way you don’t congest one terminal with all the trucks required to off-load the ship. I wonder what would happen to truck traffic projections for the Columbia Crossing if the Port of Portland and Port of Vancouver could cooperate in a scheme like this?

We talked about the growth of trucks and they acknowledged the same trend in Europe and even showed me a schedule of truck deliveries from the Netherlands to Eastern Europe and Central Asia (e.g., Turkey and Iran).

We talked a little bit about the “last mile” delivery problem, particularly in the light of a number of Dutch cities that close their centers to cars. They said that generally deliveries to stores in such city centers were made between 7am and 10am, after people are awake (so noise is not an issue) but before the shops open and large number of pedestrians are present (and when trucks are allowed to deliver in the auto-restricted areas).

If only garbage removal in NW Portland could be organized on these lines!

In fact, several delivery companies have specialized in the niche of delivering to shops in town centers in this pattern. Rather than complaining about the “costs of regulation”, they have recognized and exploited a market opportunity.

And of course we talked about bikes. When we told them that bikes lanes in freight districts were controversial in the U.S. and asked about freight districts in the Netherlands, the response was “of course we have bike lanes, how else would the employees get to work?” They also noted that if a company buys a bicycle for an employee to commute on, that’s tax deductible.

Finally we asked about truck-bike conflicts, particularly right-turning accidents where a cyclist gets hit by a truck that cannot see him/her. They acknowledged that this unfortunately occasionally happens (although their accidents stats are far better than ours) but that two solutions were being worked on – better mirrors with more visibility (I think this is true here in the U.S., too) and the addition of a bar to the undercarriage of trailers. If a cyclist is hit by a turning truck, the bar pushes the cyclist aside, rather than under the wheels. Gruesome but pragmatic?

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